Commentary: Field house foes are on the wrong track; facility is all about social justice, equity

Councillor Baker

The Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester (BGCD) Field House project on Mt. Vernon Street has become a contentious issue. This was made clear by the vote last week to approve the plan to move forward. Local papers called this Boston School Committee vote one of the “most divided votes in years.”

I support this initiative. It’s more than a project. It is a critical piece of an effort to revitalize that area and give hope, education, nutrition, and good fitness to underprivileged kids. Proper protocols have been followed. Public comment was considered. The process will adhere to Article 80.

Now approved, this new field house will stand as a facility that no other school around the area has. One of the best facilities in Boston. So why is this contentious? This is not just opposition. It is hyper-advocacy that is uninformed and meant to perpetuate a false narrative. And it is out of bounds.

Accusations that this project will hurt kids of color and rob them of a “valuable” outdoor athletic field are untrue, baseless, and founded mostly in a stirred-up false narrative pushed by people with political agendas.

This will be a state-of-the-art indoor facility, and as Covid hopefully subsides in the coming months, kids will need indoor facilities. This is Boston. Not South Florida. Do kids and parents really want outdoor fields in January and February? I remember thinking about how worthwhile this project would be back in 2015 when we had 108 inches of snow during the winter and parks like this one were covered in snow until May.

At a public meeting three weeks ago, there was dissent and concern among some citizens about the facility. They are residents and the ones most affected by this process. And we respect these opinions. In the past year, there have been no fewer than 10 public meetings about this field house to listen to input and measure feedback.

This facility will have a turf field, an elevated running and walking track, classrooms, and a nutrition center, along with some open space outside. It will be fully accessible to the BPS students at the neighboring McCormack-Dever campus. This is what the combination of the new field house and the renovation of McCormack will bring to the community. And this is bad? A top-of-the-line facility for kids to get off the street and exercise, get nutrition, and get help with school? I don’t get it.

It is confounding to me that my peers on the City Council chose to politicize the issue and stay uninformed about how much this could help the community. They chose to not talk to the people pushing for this project. They could have called BGCD or the Martin Richard Foundation to ask questions and voice concerns. They didn’t. They just went into hyper-advocacy mode. Someone else was wrong. They were right. The facts and the benefits be damned.  

Here are the facts: BGCD and the Martin Richard Foundation submitted their plan for the field house to Boston Public Schools (BPS) last summer. They represented the sole response to the Request for Proposals (RFP). These are not clandestine, fly-by-night organizations. They have been around for years and they represent what is best about the city. Bob Scannell, who heads BGCD, has pursued this to provide an indoor recreation facility for city kids, particularly kids of color. And something Bob said to me the other day on the phone has stuck with me. He said: “This facility is a social justice and equity issue. The fact is that kids in the city most often get left out. Facilities like what we’re trying to build here are typically in the suburbs. This one isn’t. This is not a land grab. This is meant to help people. Period.”

He’s right. BPS will continue to own the property. BGCD was awarded the lease, which will be written to ensure that all students benefit from this facility. The property has belonged, still belongs, and will always belong to BPS. How is that a land grab?

It’s pretty sneaky and nefarious to not have conversations about this, but instead choose to grandstand and push a false narrative at the 11th hour. It is not a reflection of who we are as neighbors and fellow citizens. We’re all in this together.

We need help from the community here. The opponents of this project have been given misinformation. They are not informed. To the people who voted no on this project and still fight it: Do the research. Sit down and talk. Participate. Make an informed decision. I swear we will convince you of the value of this project. I’ve been calling for more civil discourse for a long time now. We need it. This project is too important for any other approach.

Frank Baker represents District 3 on the Boston City Council.